Personal Development 2020 Retro

Welp it’s that time again! (Or a bit later – I did this in October in 2018 and 2019!)

It is time to find out how much Undeveloped Bruce has Developed in the last year!

What is this and why did you agree to do a double self retro?

So I was really struggling to find the will to look back over the year and check how I’ve done against the goals I set for myself in October 2019. I didn’t want to do it because I knew how pants it would feel, but sometimes looking after yourself means doing the things you don’t want to do, and my goals are really important.

After a discussion with my friend and fellow Testers-Hangout hanger-outer Chris, we agreed to work “together apart” on a parallel 2020 retro. We agreed on questions to ask, and these are my answers! You can find Chris’ post answering the same questions here. If you wanna join in, please feel free and I’m sure we’ll both be happy to share what you write!

What did you think your goals were when you started the year?

So at the start of 2020, I was working at a startup and feeling very disillusioned and burnt out. I had doubts about my skills, my knowledge and my job – the only thing I was very sure of was that I loved the people I worked with, and I loved the testing community. I was still trying to follow along to the goals I had set myself in October, which you can find in a previous blog post, but which can be summarised in these bullet points:

  • Creating an entire app in React or Vue
  • Setting up virtual environments for testing
  • Docker, Kubernetes etc
  • GraphQL
  • Redux
  • OWASP top 10 vulnerabilities checks
  • Performance testing
  • Setting up monitoring
  • Attend as many conferences and events as I can
  • Finish a Dungeons and Testing v2, beta test it and run some workshops
  • Write a blog post every two weeks
  • Talk at more meetups and events around the country
  • Get more agile :tm:
  • Get three more characters tattoo’d on my arm (Granny Weatherwax, Captain Picard and Uncle Iroh drinking tea)
  • Draw the first chapter of my webcomic
  • Go to all the best museums in Europe, or maybe just some of them to start with

Whooo… Well. Thanks, 2020?

The only one I achieved was getting that tattoo, and that was at the end of 2019. It is a really cool tattoo though, so I don’t care!

Photo of me with my tattoo. It features Saitama punching Volvemort in the face, as well as Granny, Picard and Uncle Iroh drinking tea.
Tattoo at nap time!

How did your goals change through the year?

In April I started a new job, and that came with a massive change in the types of opportunities I had for personal development. Now that I was no longer at a startup, I didn’t have the freedom to wander about and put my finger in every pie I could find, and I didn’t have the energy outside of work to make my own pies. I received push-back when I tried doing anything but what I was hired for, which I guess is fair – I’m not a manager nor an agile coach. I’m just an average tester with no particular power or renown to negotiate the terms of my role with. They needed people to automate tests, and that’s what they hired me for. xD

I reset my goals after getting the new job, concentrating instead on the key aspects I could improve on to make the highest impact on this new team and company. I was still feeling burnt-out, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to progress on personally, so it made sense to concentrate on the team rather than myself.

How did you recalibrate in the year, when things changed?

It was a time of chaos, so I recalibrated by pasting the illusion of control over it like a poster sellotaped over a hole in the wall. That sounds bad, but if your goal is to pretend that there is no hole in the wall then it’s a highly effective method. xD

I set myself vague zones of improvement instead of strict goals, and used a Trello board for self-retrospectives to see how I was improving – you can read about it here if you like! These zones of improvement were:

  • Code Things
  • Brand and Community
  • Team Integration
  • Learning Goals
  • Career Goals
  • Burnout Avoidance

I’m not a huge fan of SMART goals for personal development, so this suited me much better and I felt good about it.

The focus on making an impact seems to have paid off, anyway – our last lunchtime social of the year was an informal award-giving activity where we came up with awards we’d give ourselves and others for the year. I gave myself the award for “Most Mediocre”, but this is what someone wrote about me in the next section:

Screenshot of a post-it note that says "Most getting involved in so many things and making a positive impact - Bruce", which has been voted on with three monopoly tokens
The ‘Making a Positive Impact’ Award

Highest point of the year

Haah so I sort of glazed over it earlier, but this year I became a Test Automation Engineer. That was the audacious goal I set myself back in October 2018, when I had been a tester for 6 months and wanted something exciting to work towards. Everything I did up to April of this year, I did with the end goal of one day in the distant future being considered maybe for an automation role. And then it just sort of… happened.

It was anti-climactic, especially since we were in lockdown so I wasn’t able to celebrate either with my old team or my new one, but damn! That’s so cool. I reached the ‘Super Overall Goal’ that had directed all of my efforts for two years!! All my hard work paid off! All the networking, the talks, the struggling through repos and documentation not written with beginners in mind, countless online coding courses and half-finished projects! I achieved my goal and became an automation tester person thing! I did it!!


I did it!

Lowest point of the year

TestBash Brighton being cancelled was a definite punch in the gut, though I’m glad for everyone’s health that it didn’t go ahead. I was supposed to be running one of the social events there, and had been looking forward to it a lot. I’m not sure if that could be called the lowest point of the year, since I’ve really struggled with my mental health all year, but it was a distinctive moment.

Ah, that sounds miserable! Retraction! I have a good job and my loved ones are healthy. Even if the year has been a march of misery most the way through, I’m fortunate not to have anything really really awful happen. No particular lowest point, it was fine. xD

Which item of clothing have you worn the most?

I sincerely wish that I could say any other item of clothing but this, however too many people have witnessed it so I can’t lie. I wore it almost daily from January to March. Even through the hot summer I spent my evenings in it, and I have barely worn anything else for weeks now.

Yes, it is this… The gloriously hideous pink gingerbread jumper I bought from a charity shop for 50p the year I first moved to Bristol.

Photo of me wearing a baby pink fleece jumper with a pattern of gingerbread men, sweets and candy canes all over it.
Mmm, check out this beauty!

Have you discovered any new tools?

Yes, Aíne introduced me to Deep Focus. It’s more a behaviour tool than something you can install or carry, but it’s helped me through many a bout of procrastination and listlessness. I don’t spend all day doing useful things, instead working in bursts of focus. If I have a task that needs concentration, I leave my phone on the desk and go to the living room sofa – a sign to my brain that it’s focus time – then set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes. I concentrate entirely on that task until the time is up, then check emails/slack, make tea or stretch my legs, before repeating the cycle until the task is done.

It saved the second half of the year for me.

Best coping mechanisms


Nothing new there. Working from home just means you can keep working while you cry, because you don’t have to go hide in the bathroom. xD

Did any songs help you cope with the year?

Yeah, I basically listened to Queen on repeat, especially Don’t Stop Me Now and I Want To Break Free. They never fail to energise me!

TV shows that helped you cope

Not really. I’ve been living in a loop of watching old comforts over and over instead of trying out new shows. Watching lots of fitness and obstacle course shows did help motivate me to exercise every now and then though! I try to guess how many points the competitors will get before falling off, then I do a sit-up, push-up or squat for every point I was out.

Who is your favourite new friend of 2020, and why is it Chris?

I made a lot of new friends in 2020, somehow, which I attribute entirely to them never having met me. But they are amazing and kind people, so I hope it’ll be safe to give them hugs either in 2021 or 2022!

I don’t even know who this ‘Chris’ guy is, but if I knew him then I’m sure he’d be a swell guy who is funny and relatable, with lots of empathy, who knows when to give advice and when to keep it to himself and make sympathetic noises instead. Also I’m sure he’d have a very wise wife who knows that Wales is the best country ever.

If I did know some guy called Chris, he would probably look like this. Classic Chris look.

Drawing of Chris Armstrong wearing a headset and making the peace sign over one eye

What’re you hoping to Get Done next year, even if it’s another 2020?

I just want to keep moving forwards. I’ve set myself the rather embarrassing Big Hairy Audacious Goal of becoming a CTO in 10-15 years, so there’s a lot to do. I’m going to be focussing my attention on the areas of ‘Technical Knowledge’ and ‘Leadership’, and I’ve made a detailed but flexible plan for getting stuff done. I’m not ready to reveal it yet though.

I’ve always thought of ‘Ambition’ as a bit of a dirty word, and the idea that I would one day have an actual ‘career’ as opposed to a selection of customer-service jobs and volunteering gigs, just didn’t occur to me for a long time. Imagining that I might ever earn more than £20,000 a year was laughable – not something that would ever be on the cards for me. So it’s taking ages to adjust to the idea that I’m allowed to reach for something else, and I don’t want to put anything so crazy as CTO out there in the world. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m still convinced that I’ll go to bed and wake up the next morning late for the breakfast shift at Holiday Inn Express, giggling about that weird dream I had where I worked in tech.

Oh, but I do want to finish the first draft of my fantasy novel during 2021! I’ve been putting in more time recently, and it’s at 20k words so I think it’s attainable if I carry on this way.

What have you learnt about yourself this year?

Looking back it’s kind of obvious, but I’ve learnt that self-directed learning isn’t great for everyone – including me. You know how you get those courses you can do in your own time, and it’s supposed to be convenient because you can start and stop them any time, no deadlines or pressure? Well, it turns out that pressure and deadlines are a big factor getting stuff done. So I’ve been giving myself more deadlines, and I plan on paying for some taught and assessed courses to do next year, which will hopefully push me to complete them even when I have no motivation. Which is always. xD

Any regrets?

That’s a tough one. I generally follow the thinking that if you always do what you think is right, and so long as you have empathy for yourself, then you can’t really regret it. You did the best you could with the information you had at the time. The only things you can regret are not listening to others, and not learning from the times you were wrong.

I could regret not going to more meet-ups, not putting my name forward to do online talks, not making the most of the summer when it was here and not finishing even a single full page of a webcomic. I could regret not starting some sort of Covid side project, not using my gained commute time to complete personal projects etc… But to be honest, 2020 was rubbish and I felt rubbish. I didn’t have the capacity to do any more than I did, especially since I came into the year hoping to shake off my burnout from 2019. So I regret nothing. I slogged through and was thoroughly miserable for most of it, but I got to the end and so far as I’m concerned, that’s enough.

What have you enjoyed?

Glad this question is here, because I don’t only want to talk about how miserable 2020 was.

I enjoyed the Testers Hangout, having discussions with people I haven’t had the opportunity to know before. I’ve made so many friends this year, and I am lucky to know you all. That’s amazing.

I enjoyed all of the TestBashes, especially TestBash Home and HolidayBash.

I enjoyed finally publishing some really long fanfiction I’ve been working on for years. The positive feedback and comments about writing style and humour have given me the courage to pick up writing original fiction again. I am greatly indebted to those people who have read, liked and commented on everything I wrote this year.

I enjoyed diving even further into the rabbit holes of tea and beauty products. No matter my mood, there’s always a tea that will cheer me up – and my skin feels amazing! It’s so soft! I wish I could meet people in real life just so they could smooth my cheek and exclaim about how soft it is!

What advice would you give to past you from January 2020?

“Eh, just roll with it.”

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